"Budget cuts proposed for child welfare could roll back years of progress and jeopardize millions in federal funding, Florida's top child services official warned Thursday." "Foster Care At Issue".
More on the budget: "Legislature 2009: Lawmakers must piece together the state's next spending plan". See also "Florida House panel considers deleting some tax exemptions to revive sales tax holidays" and "Florida panel approves higher tobacco taxes as federal cigarette taxes increase".
Bottom line: "Fla. House, Senate budgets $600 million apart" and "State split over budget". Related: "Analysis: Legislature 2009 at the halfway mark".
Buckle Up For 2010
Beth Reinhard: "Try wrapping your mind around this: There could be five statewide offices up for grabs in the nation's largest swing state in 2010." "Florida facing a busy political year in 2010". Related: "News-Press: Mack won't make a run for Senate".
"'If they need a puppet, they've got the wrong dude'"
"In a year of little money and mounting tensions, tempers flared anew in the Florida Legislature on Friday when a Miami state representative accused the leader of the Florida House of being 'undemocratic.' At issue:"
Republican Rep. Juan Zapata's objection to the way House Speaker Larry Cretul quietly overruled him on a series of budget issues. Zapata all but dared Cretul to remove him as chairman of the House Human Services Appropriations Committee."Money shortage causing tension among Florida lawmakers".
''If they need a puppet, they've got the wrong dude,'' Zapata said.
The act of defiance against Cretul was the second such incident in the House this year. And it came two days after two Republican senators faced off in a committee over a bill on clerk of court funding. In both chambers, members have been admonished for using unusually strong language, such as ''jerk'' and ''piss'' in committee meetings.
Normally, such matters remain behind the scenes. But this isn't a normal year.
See you in Havana
"Seven members of the Congressional Black Caucus went to Cuba to discuss improving relations with the communist government amid speculation that Washington could ease travel restrictions to the island." "US congressional delegation in Cuba". See also "Report: Obama To Ease Cuba Travel Rules For Families".
The St. Petersburg Times editorial board: "Trade with Cuba good for Florida".
"State schools may not get full stimulus funds"
"[T]here is still no ironclad guarantee that Florida will receive all of its money, even though state lawmakers have built a large amount into their budget proposals for next fiscal year. "
A decision apparently is still weeks away."Florida schools will need waiver to get federal stimulus funds".
A key unanswered question for federal education officials: Did the state cut too much spending from its education budget during the past two years? If so, it might not qualify for much of the federal money.
"If they can demonstrate that education has not been cut more than other areas, they are in good shape. If not, it will be a challenge," Duncan said during a telephone news conference.
If this comes down adversely - and it should - one hopes the FlaDems are ready to immediately frame the issue as the feds (read the rest of the nation) being unwilling to subsidize Florida's gross fiscal irresponsibility.
RPOFer Word Games
Steve Bousquet: "Democrats in the Legislature have argued for years that the state does not collect enough tax revenue to provide adequate services to people in Florida."
So, for years, Democrats have pushed various new taxes, such as applying the sales tax to Internet sales, reviving the intangibles tax on savings, eliminating the ability of businesses to shelter their Florida profits elsewhere, and closing sales tax exemptions."Fees or taxes? In Florida's Legislature, it depends on the party".
To Republicans, these ideas are horrible because they would raise taxes. Instead, they'll raise fees and claim they didn't raise taxes.
Meek in O'Town
"U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek comes to Orlando today to launch what the Miami Democrat calls the "next phase" of his 2010 run for U.S. Senate by crisscrossing Florida in an effort to get his name on the ballot by gathering 112,000 signatures." "South Florida's Rep. Meek steps up Senate bid in Orlando".
From the "Values" Crowd
"Florida's heralded land-conservation program that has preserved millions of acres of green space during the past two decades is going away — at least for a year." "Florida Forever? Not this year".
"The Florida Senate voted Thursday to weaken the state's rigid growth laws that force developers to pay to build roads around places where they choose to plant new shopping malls, factories or planned communities. ... The bill now heads to the House, which want to dismantle the state agency that polices growth, the Department of Community Affairs." "Senate votes to weaken growth-management law". See also ""
"'Cash Register Justice'"
"A controversial bill pitting Florida judges and clerks in a battle for money and power has been yanked out of the control of state Sen. Victor Crist, a Tampa Republican." "Sen. Crist Loses Bill He Called 'Cash Register Justice'".
Confused about where you should be on this issue? Consider the source: "Lawmakers Should End Challenge to Clerks' Duties".
"Florida has some of the nation's strongest public records laws requiring politicians to disclose their sources of income and possible conflicts. But for the public, easily finding these forms is another matter." "Finances of public officials kept out of sight".
Raw Political Courage
"Florida might hike taxes on online travel industry" and "Want to drive a car? Want a divorce? It could cost more".
"Kosmas votes against budget for underfunding NASA".
"Crist said [Thursday] that the initial 72,500-acre Everglades purchase announced this week could be paid for without raising property taxes, but he could not make that promise if the state were to buy all of U.S. Sugar Corp.'s land holdings." "Crist: No tax hike for Everglades deal - at least at first".
"The House's gambling plan is a stark contrast to a Senate plan which passed out of its first committee last week."
The Senate has proposed giving the tribe full casinos, including craps and roulette, lowering the tax rate on slots at horse and dog tracks and jai alai frontons, and giving ''racinos'' -- race tracks that have slot machines -- card games such as blackjack. The agreement also would give parimutuels outside of Miami-Dade and Broward counties bingo-style, Class II slot machines."Florida House panel approves scaled-back gambling bill". Background: "Florida House to take up gaming pact, property insurance".
State economists this week shot down predictions by the Senate and governor that the Senate plan would produce $1 billion in new revenue and help close Florida's $3 billion budget gap.
Instead of $1 billion, economists predicted the Seminole's full casinos would produce about $400 million a year. They also said the proposal to reduce the tax rate on parimutuels while giving them new games would result in a net loss in taxes to the state.
More: "Florida House committee approves stripped-down gaming compact", "House panel passes no-frills Seminole gambling deal", "Crist lobbies for gambling deal to raise revenue for Fla." and "Crist Embraces Seminole Gaming Compact, Draws Foes".
Stop outsourcing, and ...
... I'll buy your newspaper: "Pensacola newspaper to lay off 84 in outsourcing".
Pay Cuts For Thee
Bill Cotterell: "House budget planners Friday raised the ante considerably for state employee pay cuts."
House budget planners Friday raised the ante considerably for state employee pay cuts. "House proposes higher pay cuts for state employees".
The Tallahassee Democrat editorial board: "A state employee earning $26,000 a year, which is just a little below the average state employee salary in Florida, reports in grim detail what a proposed 5-percent pay cut for state employees would mean to her."
A $1,300 annual pay cut would be the equivalent of two rent checks, or three car payments, or all of her gas money for the year, or cutting her grocery bill about in half, and most certainly telling her child no for shoes and clothes "like the other kids have.""Our Opinion: State employees' salaries are still a target". More: "Senate committee proposes pay cut for highest-paid state employees".
No, it isn't the name of the latest alternative band. "A South Florida congressman is asking Gov. Charlie Crist to declare a state of emergency over problems attributed to tainted Chinese drywall." "Congressman wants emergency declared over drywall".
"No one should get rich off abject failure"
"The U.S. House agreed 247-171 on Wednesday to a measure that aims to curb "excessive" bonuses at companies that received federal bailout money by giving more oversight power to Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and financial regulators."
The bill would give power to federal officials to set performance standards for bonuses paid to employees at banks and other financial institutions that took billions in federal dollars as part of a massive government plan to rescue the nation's economy."Alan Grayson's bill to rein in bonuses clears House, heads to Senate".
One of the bill's co-authors said the intention is to prevent a repeat of what happened at American International Group, where executives initially received about $165 million in bonuses after getting more than $180 billion in bailout funds.
"[The measure] is based on two simple concepts. One, no one has the right to get rich off taxpayer money. And two, no one should get rich off abject failure," said U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, a freshman Democrat from Orlando.
"Bowing to criticism from the Legislature, the Florida Lottery on Friday scrapped plans to hire an advertising agency by an informal selection and will instead use a formal negotiating process."
The move came four days after Lottery Secretary Leo DiBenigno was criticized by a House committee for not heeding a legislative order to seek competitive proposals from ad firms and to sever ties with the current vendor."Lottery changing way it picks its advertising agency". More: "After criticism, Florida Lottery restarts search for advertising firm".
Instead, DiBenigno had extended the Lottery's contract with the current vendor, Cooper DDB of Miami, which has reaped higher fees in recent months because of extra work.
Cooper DDB's lobbyist, David Griffin, is a former Lottery secretary.
"[L]egislative efforts are building this spring ... to ease regulations on insurance companies and increase rates." "Insurers may get free rein on rates". See also "Bill Cutting Hurricane Insurers' Risk Advances".
"We're inflating, we're shifting ..."
"State lawmakers might have to pass a budget this year without knowing whether they will receive nearly $900 million in federal money for schools." "Budget to include stimulus aid for schools, on faith".
"After back-to-back years of cuts to schools, lawmakers have figured out a way to hold per-student funding steady. But it comes at a price."
Programs outside the formula for student spending, such as mentoring and teacher development, would take cuts up to 20 percent. For a period of time, school board salaries would be limited to lawmaker levels, while superintendents would take 5 percent pay cuts. And school districts would be granted the freedom to set their calendars to maximize savings, even if it means longer school days in a four-day week."Per-student spending held steady -- for a price". See also "State budget plan lets schools exhale".
But what has drawn some of the loudest opposition from Democrats is the way Republicans in the House have proposed rewriting the formula. Per-student funding actually increases slightly over last year, from $6,860.36 to $6,890.46, but it would include money that wasn't previously wasn't part of the formula.
''What we're doing is we're inflating, we're shifting, we're doing these things to make education seem as though it's priority enough to get the stimulus dollars,'' said Rep. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami, a member of the House preK-12 appropriations committee, which approved its budget Thursday.
"With less than four full weeks left in the 2009 session, lawmakers started moving legislation Friday aimed at reducing a multibillion dollar property insurance risk politicians have laid on Florida consumers and taxpayers." "House committee approves hurricane insurance bill".
So It Goes
"The city's controversial sprinkler ban, which foes into effect today, is expected to conserve more than 30 million gallons of much-needed drinking water a week."
But the new restrictions, the toughest in the state, will also cost Tampa big bucks."Sprinkler Ban Will Mean Less Revenue For Tampa". Related: The St. Petersburg Times editorial board: "Make big water users pay more".
Brad Baird, director of the city's water department, estimates that the city could end up forfeiting nearly $1 million in revenue from lower water bills over the next two months.
5th DCA Fight
"Full 5th DCA asks Florida Bar for help in court fight against Crist".
Troxler agin' "Rabid O'Reilly"
Howard Troxler reminds us that "being a judge isn't a popularity contest. Nor is a judge something akin to a game show host, like the bloviating, foaming-at-the-mouth, make-believe anchorman Bill O'Reilly, of FOP News."
O'Reilly, who has made a career of being more clueless than Hulk Hogan roaming the aisles of Brooks Brothers, got his hoop skirt in a wad over a decision by Hillsborough Senior Circuit Judge J. Rogers Padgett to allow Richard Martin Chotiner, who was convicted of lewd and lascivious battery on a 23-year-old mentally challenged man, to remain free on $50,000 bail pending the outcome of an appeal.Much more here: "Rabid O'Reilly sics respected judge".
Did this make people thrilled at the prospect of a convicted sex offender being allowed to remain on the street? Hardly.
But Padgett didn't release Chotiner because, well, he was feeling frisky that day and thought it would be a hoot to permit Chotiner his freedom for the moment, because after all, the judge has a soft spot for criminal defendants, especially those convicted of sexual offenses.
Rather, as a matter of that irritating, nagging, annoying thing called the law, Padgett had a legal responsibility to release Chotiner as long as he didn't pose a flight risk. As well, that mother of all party-poopers the United States Constitution, under the Eighth Amendment, stipulates that "Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishment inflicted."
The Rich Are Different
"Socialite Linda Gosman of Palm Beach pleads guilty to fraud".
The Zell Corporation Speaks
A muddled editorial in the Zell Corporation's Orlando Sentinel throws in obligatory anti-Dem blather:
Often, members of Congress leave the nuts and bolts of taxes and spending to the House and Senate budget committees. Rep. Corrine Brown, whose district includes parts of Central Florida, said she focuses on transportation . "I never pay too much attention to the budget," the nine-term Democrat said. "I'm an appropriator.""Deficit is a bipartisan burden".
The Zell Corporations other Florida outpost, The South Florida Sun Sentinel, chips in with one of the most reprehensible editorials in years: "Obama, ACORN too close for comfort".
As to this latter editorial - had we even once in read any editorial criticism of any Republican being "too close" with the right wing nuts running the Chamber of Commerce, or a RPOFer being "too close" to the money worshiping - "profits at all costs" freaks running Florida's AIF, this might have been a bit easier to stomach. But "oh no", that kind of "balance" would make the editorial writers and Zell Corporation owners uncomfortable with their friends at the country club.
North again' South
The Palm Beach Post editorial board: "Tri-Rail, not just SunRail".
"You ain't seen nothing yet"
Joel Engelhardt: "There's too much traffic in Florida. Roads are jammed. You can't get anywhere without long delays"
.Folks, if you think things are bad now, you ain't seen nothing yet."Don't take this act on road".
Legislators are giving up on the only growth management tool with teeth Florida has known. Senators like Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, and Jeff Atwater, the Republican Senate president from North Palm Beach, are pushing a solution that does away with that confounded law. In its place, they propose ... nothing.
"Yes, up to a point"
Randy Schultz: "Give Florida's House this much when it comes to property insurance: The philosophy is consistent, even if it's consistently unrealistic. ... doesn't it make sense to have insurance agents close to this important issue? Yes, up to a point. That point comes when political ideology leads to unrealistic ideas, namely that all will be fine if the private industry can charge whatever it wants." "COLUMN: Insurers' political insurance".
"Clean energy" = "nuclear and clean coal"?
The Tampa Trib editorial board: "Some environmental purists are upset that a clean energy bill progressing in the state Senate would allow nuclear and clean coal technology to be counted toward Florida's clean energy production targets. Critics have a point but should look at the big picture." "Clean Energy Requirement Would Generate Local Jobs".
"Dry weather brings South Florida a bumper crop of wading birds".
And Then "Politics Began"
The Palm Beach Post editorial board: "Florida, which has so much potential to be a leader in renewable energy, may have to settle for being little more than a follower. Gov. Crist wanted the state to require that all utilities produce 20''percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020. The Public Service Commission, which regulates utilities, could have done so and kept politics out of the debate. But the commission kicked the decision to the Legislature. Politics began." "Support energy compromise".
Stacking the Bench
"Former West Palm Beach circuit judge Jorge Labarga is set to become the second person of Cuban descent to serve on Florida's Supreme Court. Labarga, a 56-year-old native of Havana, Cuba, will be sworn in Monday afternoon at the state Supreme Court." "Jorge Labarga to become Florida s 84th Supreme Court justice".
Was This Anything More Than A Publicity Stunt?
Bill Maxwell: "Crist once again has gone against the grain of Florida politics and gubernatorial politics in particular. On March 26, Crist sent a letter to leaders of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers after meeting with members of the labor advocacy group in Tallahassee."
For weeks, the CIW had been asking the governor for a meeting to discuss slavery, related working conditions and unfairness in wages. During the meeting, the CIW made Crist aware of documented evidence of Florida farmworkers being enslaved. Last fall, for example, five Immokalee crew chiefs pleaded guilty to 17 counts of keeping more than a dozen men in boxes, shacks and trucks on their property. The workers were chained, beaten and forced to work on farms in Florida, North Carolina and South Carolina."Crist's involvement in the slavery issue is a milestone. "
Until now, outsiders such as former President Jimmy Carter and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders have been the only high-profile politicians to take up the farmworkers' cause. Other Florida governors, especially Jeb Bush, shunned these issues."Crist backs farmworkers".
In his letter, Crist did something else no other Florida governor has done on behalf of farmworkers. He took on the powerful Florida Tomato Growers Exchange. Most farmworkers, including Florida tomato pickers, work seven days a week, between 10 to 12 hours with no overtime pay, no health insurance, no sick days, no benefits and no job security. Their wages — which have remained the same for 30 years — often are withheld at the whims of their bosses. The majority of all American farmworkers earn less than $10,000 a year.
Where's the Magic?
"Disney confirms 1,900 jobs eliminated".
The Tampa Trib editors: "No More Back-Room Budgeting".